“On this day not only have we been confirmed in our possession of paradise, but we have entered heaven in the person of Christ; through his inexpressible grace we have regained far more than we ever lost through the devil’s hatred.”
Leo the Great
Ascension Day often gets overlooked by evangelicals who don’t observe the Church Year. As a result, I can’t recall the Baptist Churches of my youth making much of the event. If we adopt the rhythms of the Church Calendar, we gain a rich means of revisiting the central events of our faith every year. After all, Christ’s ascension is a crucial part of the gospel we can’t afford to forget. Contemplating Ascension Day with the church enables us to overcome the secular stories of our world, cultivating alternative narratives shaped by faith, hope, and love. On this day, standing with the disciples gazing into heaven, we contemplate the following truths.
First, the ascension reminds us that Jesus is Lord. Seeing Jesus pass from sight through the clouds testifies to his reign at the Father’s right hand. Despite appearances to the contrary, all authority in heaven and earth belong to Jesus. Like John’s ancient audience we too need our perceptions renewed by this truth. Every Ascension Day, a voice summons us through heaven’s door into God’s holy place. Entering with John we see a throne at the helm of history, and the throne is occupied. Jesus the Lamb stands in the midst of it, holding the earth’s destiny in his hand. Of course, the scroll in Jesus’ hands includes our personal destiny, our individual stories. Though we face tribulation in the world, as worshipers of Jesus, we weather the storm in light of the vision. By faith we await the finished portrait, the one working the pieces of our sin shattered lives into a tapestry reflecting his glory. We embrace this perspective because the ascended Jesus reigns as Lord.
Second, the ascension reminds us that Jesus is our Priestly Advocate. Along with the disciples, we are anxious at Jesus’ departure. Yet, Jesus’ passing through the veil opens heaven’s glories. As the ark in God’s temple, Jesus’ heavenly throne establishes our peace with God. The virtue of the Lamb’s stripes and wounds invites us, with all of our baggage, into the holy place. After all, God is not sipping a martini, sitting on a cosmic deckchair somewhere, blithely unconcerned with our predicament. The Jesus who now invites our prayers is the same one who entered our shame and overcame our darkness. He knows precisely how to pray so that our faith does not fail. As our Priest, he secures our faith by baptizing us with the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, the enthroned Christ comes to us, affirming our adoption by the Father, mystically uniting us with himself so that even now we sit with him in heavenly places. By breaching the veil, our Priest welcomes us unto the fellowship of the Trinity.
Finally, the ascension reminds us Jesus will come as King. Believing the heavenly bystanders, we view the ascension as the penultimate act anticipating the final scene. Jesus’ departure calls us to study the clouds, especially those that glow with glory and break with light, for we expect him in the same way he left. Understandably, our secular world mocks the idea of Christ’s return because it challenges the god-king claims of every individual. The return of the King confronts us with our creaturely status, our accountability before God. Unfortunately, we believers often fuel the mockery by becoming end-time gurus with charts and timelines, or doomsday predictors with precise dates. More lamentable still is our tendency to divide and exclude over a particular end-time scheme. We must learn to distinguish between primary and secondary doctrines, between the gospel deposit and subsequent elaboration. Our blessed hope is that the ascended Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. The Lamb’s worshipers will receive the kingdom with joy, while all other worshipers will inherit weeping and gnashing of teeth. This world will become the kingdom of our God and his Christ. So lift up your eyes.